Matthew Berk offers some interesting numbers about Facebook’s increasing grip on the web. As he points out, Facebook’s extraordinary growth is part of a bigger story about a basic shift in the structure of the web. “In the old world,” he writes, the web was made up largely of “pages and sites” that were “about” other pages and sites, and “search engines used calculations based on the link as a key signal of network-wide relevance.” But now, as more people’s use of the web comes to be mediated by proprietary social-networking services (often delivered through apps on mobile devices), pages “are becoming ever more incidental,” and APIs managed by those private services are displacing links as the connections that shape the structure (or “graph”) of the web and our experience of it.
Berk did an extensive crawl of the web and found that 22 percent of all pages now contain Facebook URLs, a number he senses is “rising, and fast.” When you consider the vastness of the web, and how long its sites have been proliferating, that’s a striking figure. As Berk observes, “it’s taken roughly a decade for Facebook to not only accrue roughly a billion users, but to entangle itself in about a fifth of the Web.” Even more striking, and troubling for anyone concerned about the web’s future as an open, popular network, is Berk’s finding about the way in which Facebook is entangling itself in the web:
Although about a fifth of the Web (based on this sample) references Facebook, and despite there being close to half a billion references to Facebook URLs, there are only 3.5 million unique URLs in the sample set. The bulk of these are for Facebook-specified integrations (those that add social dimension to a Web site), as opposed to specific inbound URLs. My key takeaway here is that although Facebook may know about a sizable portion of the Web, the Web barely knows anything about what’s inside of Facebook.
Facebook loves to talk about “sharing,” but that hardly seems to be its business strategy. What Facebook wants is control. It’s like a giant castle with high walls and a deep moat — and spies everywhere.